Emotional independence

Independence is about ownership. When you are independent, you are claiming ownership of your life. You can see the importance of ownership most clearly when you look at your emotions.

When you are emotionally independent, you take responsibility for your emotions. You acknowledge that others may set the stage for how you feel but you accept that you are the actor in the drama; and you believe the same goes for others.

“Not claiming ownership for your emotions,” Dr Gary Emery believes, “is one of the biggest problems between people.” Many people are used to pushing their unpleasant feelings off onto others that they have trouble who owns what. Problem like this do not exist when you are emotionally independent.

Dr James Campbell believes you can operate out of two different emotional systems. In the first, you believe, “Others are responsible for my feelings; and I am responsible for theirs.” In the second system, you believe, “I am responsible for my feelings and you are responsible for your feelings.” Dr Emery prefers the coinage CHOICE-ABLE.

Dr Campbell points out that you will run into some definite drawbacks when you operate out of the first system. To begin with, you have to WAIT for the other person to change so you will feel better. Next, you will become FRUSTRATED when the person does not. Then, you start to feel HELPLESS to change the situation, and then HOPELESS that anything will change. Eventually, you become DISPIRITED and RESENTFUL toward the other person.

He adds that when you and another person are operating out of the first system, communication breaks down. “When you believe that what you say is responsible for how the other person feels, you will not say anything meaningful. The other person will feels the same way. As a result, intimacy disappears.”  

When you are emotionally independent, you choose to operate from the second model: “I am choice-able for my emotions and you are choice-able for yours.” Dr Emery believes that one of the main lessons in growing up is learning to shift from the first model to the second.

He opines that painful emotions are not mysterious. “They are simply signals from your brain that you need to make different choices in the way you are thinking or acting.” Painful emotions are not trying to punish you, but rather to wake you up and get your attention. Your mind wants you to take the situation seriously. If the pain were not sharp, you would ignore the signal and not make the necessary choices.

What messages are your emotions try to send you? Often there are two possibilities: you need to act differently, or you need to think differently. Each specific group of emotions has distinct messages, according to the experts.

When you are ANXIOUS, the message is either you are in danger and should protect yourself, or you are exaggerating the danger and should think more realistically. With GUILT, your mind is telling you either that you are acting against your values and should act differently, or you are evaluating your actions against others’ values and should not buy into their values.

ANGER is an indication either that you need to take action against someone who’s infringing on your domain, or you mistakenly think that infringement is occurring. SADNESS signals either that you need to accept a real loss so that you can get on with your life or that you think you have lost something that you have not.

Emotional pain, Dr Emery emphasises, is like physical pain. Both tell us something is wrong that needs to be corrected. If you ignore either, the pain persists and the problem usually gets worse. The first step in being emotionally independent, he suggests, is to acknowledge and accept your emotions. “By doing this, you send the message back to your brain that you realise something is wrong but you will take care of it. Once you do this, the severity of the pain immediately start to lessen.

You may try to ignore your emotions because you do not want to admit anything is wrong with you.  A lack of independence leads to not owning your emotions. “Maturity is not the absence of flaws and mistakes, but the owning up to them.”

When you are emotionally independent, you do not say. “I am not depressed,” nor do you say, “You are making me depressed.” What you say is, “I am depressing myself today.” When you take responsibility for how you feel, you start to make choices in your favour.


According to Dr Emery, if you want to be able to choose how you feel, you need to come to terms with two issues: who creates your emotions, and what do you get with your emotions? “Once you see that you create your own feelings and that you do not need the emotional payoff, you can start to choose more freely how you feel.”

Your thinking creates your emotions. If you think you have to feel bad about something, you will. Similarly, if you choose to think you do not have to feel bad, you will not. The brain, the experts say, is like the rest of our organs, is neutral to what it processes. Your stomach will digest unhealthy food as well as healthy food; your lungs will take in cigarette smoke as well as clean air.  “You have a choice in what you want your brain to process. You are the one who generates your own internal experiences, so you are the one who can choose what experiences you want to have.”

Before you can choose how you feel, you have to realise you are the one who creates your feelings. When you see that you are an emotionally free agent, you are then able to make choices. Because you create your own emotions, you will always choose new ones.

If you want to be emotionally independent and have the ability to choose how you feel, you have to see that you create your own emotions. Learning how you are choice-able for your own feelings is a developmental process. Children have a difficult time seeing how they create their own feelings. If children feel bad after being teased, they think the person doing the teasing caused them to feel bad. They cannot see that it is their own doing that is causing their bad feelings. As you grow up you are better able to see that you are upsetting yourself, and that “sticks and stones can break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” People who a psychologically dependent have the same difficulty children have in seeing how they are choosing their own feelings.


To be able to choose how you feel, you will have to stop believing that you will lose something when you give up negative feelings. Some writers believe our negative emotions are not real and that we have them to manipulate others.

While your emotions are real – you do feel bad – you often have benefits or payoffs for negative emotions. “One of the reasons you may choose not to get rid of your negative feelings is because you do not want to lose the payoffs. Your emotions can bring you something you want. This is not to say you feel bad just for the payoff; however, the payoffs can be a factor in which you do not let them go. You may be aware or unaware of the payoffs; the consequences can be wanted or unwanted.


One of the reasons you do not want to choose to feel okay about events is that this leads to acceptance. Because your mind does not want you to accept the situation as it is without judgments, your mind cannot tolerate your feeling is okay. This would mean accepting the situation.

You may hang to your negative feelings as a way you can from losing control. You may think choosing to accept unwanted events and feel good is giving in and letting others or the world win. “You may use your bad feelings as a method to not let others or events get away with what they did to you”.

When you use your emotions as a defense against the world you have trouble freely choosing how you want to feel. The irony is that you do not have to defend yourself emotionally against the world.

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